After riding a wave of popularity on the coasts, stand-up paddleboards have swept into the lakes and rivers of Minnesota.
We wanted to see what the buzz was about, so I took my two sons and their friend to Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, which started renting the boards this summer. We arrived on a weekday afternoon to find three of the four boards already out on the lake.
"They've been a huge hit," said Katie Pata, operations coordinator for Dakota County parks. "But people are mystified still. It looks like you're walking on water."
A paddleboard is wider, thicker and longer than a regular surfboard and thus more stable. You stand in the middle, facing forward, and propel yourself with a long-handled paddle.
With no waves required, Minnesotans are buying boards as lake cabin toys or as fitness tools for a core-body workout. This week, 21-year-old Mendota Heights native Alex Linnell raised the sport's profile when he became the first person to paddle a board the length of the Mississippi River, from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.
"It's a short learning curve. Just about anybody can do it - from kids to grandmothers and grandfathers," said Jeff Given, co-owner of Twin Cities PaddleBoard, which sells boards and delivers rentals to area lakes. His wife also offers fitness classes to mostly women who find doing deep knee bends on a board in the water hones their sense of balance and is just plain fun.
FUN AND GAMES
My little group was more
A staff member walked us down to the beach and held the long, yellow board steady in knee-high water while my 11-year-old son hopped on. He teetered a bit, got his balance and then paddled straight into the cattails. Steering was a bit of a challenge.
The single kayaks were more maneuverable and zippy, but you can't jump off a kayak, and that turned
Within minutes, my son's friend ditched his kayak and climbed onto the board, where the boys wrestled and played king of the mountain. They could pull themselves onto the board more easily than they could hoist themselves out of a pool. When they tired of shoving each other, one of them sat on the front and the other paddled around like a gondolier.
My 9-year-old son would have been delighted with his kayak on any other day, but waiting for a turn on the paddleboard was torture. I spotted two teenagers returning their boards, so we headed back to the boat rental and swapped two of our kayaks for the boards, paying the few dollars difference.
Then, each boy had a board, and the three decided to race across the lake in what they dubbed the Paddleboard Grand Prix. It involved paddling to the beach, running up to touch dry sand and then climbing back onto the board and paddling to where I was floating in the kayak in the middle of the lake.
On the return trip, it became apparent that experience paddling a canoe was a plus. My younger son got stuck in the floating weeds near shore and started making ineffectual stabs into the water that grew more frantic as he realized he was losing the race.
"I'm stuck in the weeds!" he shrieked.
I could hear him across the lake. So could all the parents and children playing on the beach 15 feet away from him. Teenagers stopped throwing their Frisbee to look. It didn't help that he had gotten his board turned backward and was trying to plow through the lake plants with the flat end first.
Meanwhile, our friend easily maneuvered his board, using the "C" and "J" strokes he had learned while canoeing at his lake cabin, he later told me. While he made a beeline back to me, my older son paddled furiously, veering off toward a nearby shoreline. He still hadn't gotten the hang of steering.
Despite their frustrations, my sons loved the paddleboards.
"They're awesome," our friend declared.
When I got my turn, I could understand the appeal. I felt wobbly at first but soon grew more confident. I
ANOTHER WATER TOY
Lebanon Hills rents mostly to families with kids and teenagers. Most are like 11-year-old Zari Dehdashti, people who see the strange boards from shore and want to give them a try.
"It was really scary because it was rocking back and forth and you're out in the water and you can fall down at any time," said Dehdashti, who admitted she liked the exciting, tippy feeling. "But it was really, really fun."
Some people take the boards into the middle of the lake and sunbathe. Others practice Pilates on the boards. One repeat customer rents a paddleboard because standing is easier on his back than sitting in a kayak.
While the ancient roots of the paddleboard stretch back into Polynesian and Hawaiian surf cultures, the modern boards started popping up around 10 years ago on the coasts and drifted to Minnesota about three years ago.
When Wheel Fun Rentals first offered them at Lake Calhoun in 2009, staff had to persuade people to try them. Now, the shop has a waiting list on most sunny days.
Lebanon Hills hopes to add a few more boards for next season, if the budget allows. Most boards cost between $700 and $1,500.
"I think we have too much water and we're outdoorsy people for this trend to go away," said Given.
Finally, surfing has arrived in Minnesota.
Maja Beckstrom can be reached at 651-228-5295.
What: Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP)
Where: Lebanon Hills Regional Park, 860 Cliff Road, Eagan
Information: 651-554-6530 or dakotacounty.us/parks
Hours: Rentals open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily Memorial Day through Labor Day. Last rental at 6:45 p.m.
Cost: $10 per hour
Target audience: Surfers, kids elementary-school age and older
Crowd pleaser: Jumping off
Avoid: Drowning. Paddleboards are considered boats by the state of Minnesota. Life jackets are required, and so is common sense.
Tip: Boards are often rented out, so be prepared for a wait or settle for a kayak
OTHER PLACES TO RENT PADDLEBOARDS
LOVE'S PONTOON BOARD RENTALS
Location: Delivery to St. Croix River, some lakes
Contact: 651-233-7745, lovespbr.com
Rates: $15 per hour; $40 half day; $50 full day
WHEEL FUN RENTALS
Location: 3000 Calhoun Parkway E., Minneapolis
Contact: 612-823-5765, wheelfunrentals.com
Rates: $15 per hour
TWIN CITIES PADDLEBOARD
Location: Delivery to area lakes
Contact: 612-353-7802, tcpaddleboard.com
Rates: $25 per hour; $60 half day; $100 full day; lesson $25
TOMMY'S TONKA TROLLEY
Location: 379 Lake St., Excelsior
Contact: 952-220-0101, tonkatrolley.com
Rates: $17 per hour